Welcome to the Thought Palace of Rahul Rajeev

How to overcome your fear of writing?

Writing Aug 14, 2021

“Covid-19” has changed the world forever. The pandemic has made economies embrace technology on a deeper level. It has forced businesses to accept remote working as a standard practice. In this context, writing is cementing itself as a key piece of skill for the 21st-century man.
Writing has always been a powerful medium of expression and communication. New mediums, tools of thought and easy-to-use technologies are paving the way for the re-emergence of blogging. Thought leaders are open about the leverage that writing can give to people who share their knowledge and experiences.
So no matter who you are, you need to start writing today.

But writing is scary. Why is that?

Writing for the internet is an enticing proposition. Maybe you have the vision to start your own blog. You know enough to be familiar with the likes of Medium and Substack. You are serious and have set up your own domain for a blog powered by Ghost or WordPress. platforms.

But having a fancy place to display your writing will not help you do the actual act of writing. I know that you trying to write, trying to create something. But when you are at your table facing the blank screen, it is like being hit by a stone and being forced to work with a brain that does not want to cooperate.

The penetrating gaze of the blank screen can make you feel empty of ideas and direction. The screen becomes the reflection of your internal chaos.

Still, there might be moments where you are able to get some writing done; powered by a sense of sheer excitement and motivation. Along the way, your inner critique comes out with such authority that all you can see is your imperfection. You are left with half-written drafts that will never see the light of the day.
Most of us, start like this. But if we were to continue writing like this, it won’t get us anywhere. This cycle of trying to start writing and being unable to complete it develops into a fear of writing. This fear isn’t so obvious to many. It can mask itself in many forms. And make no mistake your procrastination to writing is also a derivative of this fear.

Should writing be this difficult?

The answer is both yes and no. If it was so easy, we would all have written something by now. But then writing can be easy if you know how to approach writing.
When looking  at the question of why writing is difficult from a first-principles standpoint, I see three major reasons:

  • We treat writing as an isolated one-off activity that a process or practice
  • When we start writing something we set irrational expectations and a misplace perfectionism
  • Then there is our collective obsession over “original” ideas

To get past your fears and to start writing these are the reasons we must account for. I will cover these three reasons in-depth in a future post.

Beyond the fear, lies the road to better writing

To make peace with your writing fears and start writing, you have to give up all expectations.

When you sit down to write, refrain from attaching any high stakes goals. An example of a high-stake goal would be to have an article ready for publishing with three hours of writing. That is not how writing works and it is certainly is not the way by which a beginner should approach writing.
When you are facing the blank screen, don’t even think of the finished piece. This is to give yourself a sense of freedom. Make the blank screen the space for exploration using your own words. The keyword here is "quantity". Discard all temptations to pursue quality.

The next step is to have a routine attached to writing.

Set aside 15 to 20 minutes every day for writing freely. In general as a beginner, your goal should be to write more. Whenever your inner critique decides to drop by, gently remind them that you are not bothered by the quality of the work.

Just keep writing.

Finally, it is important for you to take note of the fact that there is no original work in this world.
Whatever that you feel is new, are remixed versions of ideas from the past or derivatives of other ideas. I am telling you this because, even the most clichéd of topics, can be written in an interesting manner.  It is your own personal touch that has the ability to make ideas feel novel.
I don’t expect you to fully internalize this concept, but this is what you will discover as you keep writing.

The only person who can explain something the way you do is you.

This combination of developing a writing routine, removed from all expectations, freed from the worship of originality will help you overcome your fear of writing. You will be set free as a writer.
The central idea here is to conduct a dialogue between yourself and your writing to discover a narrative that you gravitate towards.

Too abstract and nothing to act on? FBR is what you are looking for.

The things I shared now about getting over your fear of writing might seem too wishy-washy and abstract. It is natural. I discovered all of this in hindsight, moving through these motions at my own pace. Right now you may have developed some understanding of how to deal with your fear of writing.
But it doesn’t have to remain as an abstraction. Write your way out of your fears.

To write using the ideas mentioned here I recommend the FBR writing approach. I came across the FBR method from Ali Abdaal, a popular productivity YouTuber. FBR is a nifty acronym that asks you to write stuff Fast, Bad & Wrong. Yes, it is simple as it sounds.

In FBR you write quickly every day without being bogged down by anything. You are not thinking about the quality of writing or its accuracy. Dump words into paper. Forget grammar, style, and spelling. Let loose and write.
Get Infront of a computer and type away. You can use topics sparsely. Only to have a general sense of writing if you are having a hard time coming up with something.

The power of FBR is in its simplicity.

When you are done writing keep it away from your sight. Revisit it later when you have forgotten all about it. During these revisits, as you look at what you have written with a fresh pair of eyes, you will discover interesting threads. Ideas that pop into you are attending and are worth developing.

Now you are not staring at the blank page anymore, instead, you have something to start with. Something you are familiar with; So begin writing it.

If at any point fear creeps up during the developing process, again shift to the FBR mindset. Keep writing till you have your first draft.

When the first draft, you can turn on your analytical self. You can start setting expectations here for what the draft is going to become. Based on that you can edit, polish and stylish the draft until you are satisfied.

Virtues of Patience
To solve anything we need to connect with people, and to connect you need to listen. To truly listen to someone, you have to show empathy. Empathy isn’t easy and it takes effort. To take that effort you need patience.

FBR gets you going, but it is not enough!

You might have noticed that even with the FBR there is still some rough edges left, a lack of clarity of instruction here and there. As you proceed with FBR there will be instances where you have to take decisions that are not so easy to take. For example, when do you know the first draft is ready? Or how much editing should you do on a draft? How should you structure your writing?
These questions help transform an average article into a good one. Answering these questions requires a level of insight and awareness that most beginning writers lack.

I cannot teach you how to make these specific, situational decisions. You must experience it yourself. Insight has to come naturally.

The truth is FBR lets you write more but it doesn’t promise you finished products.  Many beginners do get the FBR right. They keep writing and ends up building a collection of drafts without ever publishing it somewhere. They never finish editing what they have written. It is our familiar enemy- perfectionism striking again.

Killing perfectionism: Extending FBR with 2x FBR

To develop the writer’s instinct and to have results from your writing you need to perform another layer of FBR. I call it "Fifty Bad Writings."
Again, we are making things simple. You have only one goal before you. Convert your drafts from the first FBRs into fifty published articles. Tell yourself that you are going to make 50 bad articles public.
If it scares you calling it an experiment or publish it under a pseudonym. Trust me, you do this and by the 50th article, you can call yourself to be someone who can write online.

The Fifty Bad Writings approach takes away the attention from creating perfect work to creating a volume of work that makes you atuned to the entire process behind writing.

 2x FBR forces you to accept your mediocre work and help you to switch into a growth mindset. The better work comes after the first 50 bad ones and the best work comes even later. In other words, failing faster to get good faster.

2x FBR is going to be intense, especially in the first few weeks. Fight all resistance and still to it.

You are building the full stack writing skillset here; right from building a draft to piecing a final output. As you publish more, your ability to create also improves.
As a bonus real-world feedback, you receive through what's published will accelerate your growth. With each article, you become closer to your inner writer. Somewhere along the 50 articles, you stop being a beginner.
Fifty Bad Writings is the stepping towards improving your craft of writing. The sooner you can get there, the better. Because everything that makes a writer unique in terms of style, usage and elegance come after the beginner's plateau.

Conclusion – Being a writer is a journey

Writing is both a craft and an art. Different writers pursue different goals. Some care about the beauty of communication. Some don’t. For some, ideas are what counts as good writing.
I don’t know what kind of a writer you want to be, but by facing your fear through FBR and writing consistently using 2x FBR you are poised on to the fast track to better writing.

The two methods in conjunction take a large bit of craft-related headaches off your shoulders leaving headspace for thinking more about finer aspects of "writing".

Writing is a journey for a lifetime. It is relatively much easier to jump from the beginner stage to the novice stage. It gets a little tougher as you become a professional as now you need both writing skills and time management skills.

It takes even longer to transform from a good writer to a great writer. You will need to find joy in the process of writing while maintaining a strong growth mindset if you are ever planning to be a great writer.

I hope you have somewhere to begin your journey now. Start writing today. Good luck!

PS: If you do finish the Fifty Bad Articles approach do send me a link via mail or Twitter. I would love to skim through your labour of sweat. I believe one of the most beautiful things you can experience as a human being is to see someone else’s growth over a period of time.


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